Activities of Secretary-General in Russian Federation, 27-29 January

Press Release SG/T/2213 - 20000131
The Secretary-General arrived in Moscow on the morning of Thursday, 27 January, for two days of talks with Russian leaders, including his first encounter with acting President, Vladimir Putin. That afternoon he met with Gennady Seleznyov, who a week before had been re-elected as Speaker of the newly elected State Duma, or lower house of Parliament. Their discussions focussed almost exclusively on Chechnya. The Speaker described the security situation in the territory, and the Government's efforts to care for refugees and eventually resettle them. The Secretary-General said that the international community was against terrorism, but also wanted to see the protection of innocent civilians in conflict situations. He expressed his alarm at the toll the conflict had taken among the civilian population.

He then met with Egor Stroyev, the President of the Federation Council, or upper house. They talked about the Russian Federation's relations with international organizations, and the situation in Kosovo, but again spent most of their time together talking about Chechnya. The Council's President said he was confident that the fighting would be over soon. Elections in Chechnya had been set for 26 March, he said, and it was hoped that everything would be resolved by then.

At a press encounter afterwards, the Secretary-General said that of course he would want to see the end of the conflict as soon as possible so that the civilians could get on with their lives. But in the meantime, he said, "we should do everything we can to protect and ensure their rights".

At the end of the day the Secretary-General had three internal meetings. The first was with his Special Envoy for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Yuliy Vorontsov. The second was with his Special Representative for Tajikistan, Ivo Petrov, and the third was with his Special Representative for Georgia, Dieter Boden.

On Thursday evening, he attended a private dinner with Yevgeny Primakov, the former Prime Minister.

On Friday, 28 January, the Secretary-General had his first face-to-face meeting with Acting President Vladimir Putin.

In a session that lasted an hour and ten minutes, the Acting President began by expressing the Russian Federation's strong support for the work of the United Nations. He went on to give a detailed briefing on why the Russian Federation had taken military action in Chechnya and how he intended to press on until a military victory was won.

The Secretary-General replied that the world understood the terrorist challenge that the Russian Federation faced in Chechnya, but was concerned that the force being used was not proportional to the threat. The result, he said, was massive displacement and suffering for the civilian population. "I don't know how long it will take you to root out the terrorists", he concluded, "but the conflict must end soon".

The Secretary-General was then to meet with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, but Mr. Ivanov fell ill on his return the previous evening from the Council of Europe meeting in Strasbourg, France. In his absence, the Deputy Foreign Minister for United Nations Affairs, Sergei Ordjonikidze, exchanged views with the Secretary- General on the current situations in Tajikistan, Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

The First Deputy Foreign Minister, Alexander Avdeev, then hosted a working lunch, which included a lengthy discussion on the United Nations role in Kosovo. The Russian side objected to the trappings of independence being given to Kosovo, which, under a Security Council resolution, is to remain part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Other items addressed in the course of the morning meetings were national sovereignty versus humanitarian intervention, the conflict in Afghanistan, international drug trafficking, and the wars in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia/Eritrea.

They also touched on Iraq, with the Russian side saying that they hoped the appointment of Hans Blix as Executive Director of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) would mark the beginning of a new era in the relations between Iraq and the United Nations.

They concluded with a review of Middle East peace efforts and the prospects for the talks on Cyprus, which were set to resume in Geneva on 31 January.

At a press encounter after the lunch, the Secretary-General was asked how his Russian hosts had reacted to his suggestion that their use of force in Chechnya was disproportionate to the terrorist threat. "The point I made was understood", he replied. "I made my point on the need to protect civilians - and pleaded, urged, that the war should be brought to an end as soon as possible".

"We should be very careful to avoid a situation where violence is visited on innocent civilians", he said at another point, "because such situations often risk violating international humanitarian law".

The First Deputy Foreign Minister then said that the argument on proportionality was academic. "The sooner we achieve military victory over the terrorists", he concluded, "the easier it will be to resolve the Chechen problem".

Asked if his stand on Chechnya had changed after that day's talks, the Secretary-General responded, "I've been clear on my stand on Chechnya and I repeated my message this morning. That's all I have to say".

The Secretary-General then met with heads of United Nations agencies and addressed the staff at Moscow's United Nations House.

That evening, he was presented with a Peace Banner by representatives of the Roerich Foundation, a cultural organization founded by Russian philosopher and painter Nikolas Roerich.

He then had dinner with the First Deputy Foreign Minister and other senior Ministry officials.

On Saturday, the Secretary-General went to Moscow's oldest monastery, the thirteenth century Svyato Damilov, for a visit with Patriarch Alexi II of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Patriarch described how he had called for an end to the bloodshed in Chechnya and said he saw the role of the Church as a peacekeeper. "We're in the same business", the Secretary-General quipped.

Before leaving Moscow for Geneva, the Secretary-General had an off-the-record lunch with about two dozen senior editors of the Russian print and television media.

He arrived in Switzerland that evening.